It would have been hard to believe when it appeared on consoles ten years ago, that Dark Souls, a spiritual successor to a little known game, would go on to become one of the biggest names in gaming; a series that would be cited as some of the greatest games of all time, and the birthplace to a number of instantly recognisable memes and phrases.
Dark Souls owes a lot of what it is to Demon’s Souls, a game produced by FromSoftware in 2009 for the Playstation that saw players fighting through a dark fantasy world with giant, ferocious enemies, and unforgiving combat that would often result in player death. Because the game was not initially received well in review, in part because of the difficulty, it was not released outside of Japan. Despite this, it received something of a cult following, and FromSoftwars and director Hidetaka Miyazaki began work on a new game.
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Due to the fact that Demon’s Souls was published through Sony, FromSoftware were unable to produce a direct sequel to the game. This meant that they had to create a new world for their game to be set in, and that they would need to make some tweaks to the game play to set it apart. This resulted in the creation of Dark Souls.
Set in a fantasy world once ruled by dragons, the second ‘Age of Fire’ is coming to an end. Having stolen fire from the dragons mankind had ruled the world for thousands of years, but as that fire waned a dark curse has spread across the world, a curse that results in people becoming undead, doomed to resurrect after death over and over until driven to madness. The player character is one of these undead, sent to an asylum for the cursed, before breaking out and making their way to the city of Lordran, where they set out to find a way to save themselves.
Much of the storytelling in Dark Souls is pretty light on the ground, and if you’re not paying attention you can end up missing a lot of the narrative. This is because the game doesn’t really employ traditional storytelling, there are no cut scenes where the character learns the history of the land and is told what to do, and other characters are so few and far between that you can be forgiven for forgetting they exist. Instead, it’s through item descriptions and narrative clues in the environment that players are left to piece things together, being allowed to come to their own conclusions and deductions.
But the story and setting of Dark Souls isn’t the main draw, and it isn’t what has made it a success. The one thing you’ve probably heard even if you’ve never played the game is ‘prepare to die’, and it’s a fitting motto for Dark Souls. There is no way to get through the game without dying, and if anyone ever tries to tell you they’ve finished the game without dying they’re lying. It’s just not possible. Where other games discourage dying, making it a mark of failure, Dark Souls makes it a part of the experience. Dying means that you’re learning, that you’ve come across an enemy you haven’t encountered yet and who you still need to figure out, or that maybe you just got too cocky.
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Death is something that you come to expect from the game after a while, and whilst at first you might be cursing and shouting because you’ve just been hacked to pieces or crushed under a huge weapon, soon you’ll be shrugging to yourself and getting straight back into the fight. It is a strange way to play a game for sure, but one that becomes incredibly rewarding as you push yourself to do better, to make it just a little further each time before dying as you begin to master a tough game, but one that is never trying to discourage you from paying.
The success of Dark Souls is in this game play, in the world it created, and the challenge it gave people. Players suddenly found themselves up against something they’d never encountered in gaming before, and it was exhilarating. This formula has been copied by other studios and other games, and whilst there have been some successes FromSoftware, Dark Souls remains the king of this type of game.
Dark Souls was originally released in Japan on 22nd September 2011, and in the UK on 7th October 2011.